Herbert says state can handle new EPA limits

Thursday , June 05, 2014 - 7:09 AM

The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday that President Barack Obama's new plan to cut pollution discharged by America's power plants will likely raise electricity rates for consumers and cost the state jobs.

He said the state is in good shape to make the transition from coal-powered plants to natural gas because the state has been taking steps in that direction for the past nine years, but he acknowledged that the new regulations aimed at reducing pollution blamed for global warming could hurt Utah.

Natural gas plants need fewer workers than coal plants, he said, and the additional costs of production will clearly trickle down to consumers. The state gets 80 percent of its electricity from coal.

"There is concern out there in the business community that this could have a detrimental effect on the economy," Herbert said.

The Republican governor's comments came during a news conference during his third-annual Energy Development Summit, which drew about 1,200 government officials and business people to Salt Lake City.

The impact of the new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, unveiled Monday, was the focal point of much discussion during the summit, which included speeches and breakout panels.

The rules would curb national carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by almost one-third from 2005 levels over the next decade and a half. It would require Utah to cut coal-generated emissions by nearly as much.

Keynote speaker Ted Nordhaus downplayed the significance of the plans, saying they mostly codify a transition from coal to natural gas that was already underway thanks to cheap gas and expanding air pollution regulations.

"With or without new EPA carbon dioxide regulations, we are going to burn a lot more gas and a lot less coal over the next several decades," said Nordhaus, co-founder of The Breakthrough Institute, a think tank that challenges traditional views on environmentalism. "The real war on coal is being waged by cheap natural gas, not the Environmental Protection Agency."

Environmental advocates believe the new plans will lead to more alternative energy development, putting Utah in position to be a player in the solar power industry.

Herbert lauded the benefits of solar power and the decreasing costs but said he believes the market should dictate what energy sources are used.

"We have a lot of people that say, 'The public wants solar power.' Well, OK, we'll see if they buy it," Herbert said.

In between speeches, attendees visited booths staffed by a wide range of companies and organizations. They included mining associations, Indian tribes, the Bureau of Land Management, and companies and organizations dedicated to shale oil extraction, wind farms and sage grouse protection.

The conference was designed to bring together the most important decision-makers in government and private businesses from several Western states to help shape future policy.

During a midday speech to attendees, Herbert encouraged everyone to find innovative ways to create cleaner sources of energy in the future, saying regulations alone can't clean up pollutants.

He also reiterated his belief that Utah can cultivate energy development while being "good stewards" of the land and protecting the state's natural landscape that helps the outdoor recreation industry bring an estimated $5.8 billion a year to Utah's economy.

Critics say Herbert leans toward oil and gas development, pointing to the fact that his energy adviser, Cody Stewart, is a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry.

Herbert announced Wednesday that Utah is among several states participating in a test program aimed at producing a new liquid fuel, based on natural gas, that Herbert said is cleaner and less expensive than gasoline.

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